Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Jonathan Cahana: Androgyne or Undrogyne? Queering the Gnostic Myth

The androgyne, whether as a symbol, as a concept, or as a bodily reality, appears to be employed in different and sometimes apparently contradicting ways within gnostic discourse. On the one hand, it is repeatedly stressed that the divine Barbelo herself, the most high active deity, is a "mother-father" and a "thrice named androgyne," (Apocryphon of John 4.29-5.20) but on the other, we learn that Ialdabaoth, the evil material creator himself, is an "androgyne" as well (Hypostasis of the Archons 94.8-19). On the one hand, the heavenly father is an androgyne (Gospel of the Egyptians 51-52) and Adam longs for   his ungendered days, when s/he was higher than the creator god (Apocalypse of Adam 64.5-65.25), and on the other, Mary Magdalene is encouraged to become male (Gospel of Thomas 114) while the Foreigner finds the "masculine female virgin" within him(?)self (Allogenes 59.1-4). This apparent discrepancy would serve as the focus of this paper, which aims at explaining the complex use of the concept of the queered gender in Gnostic myth. I will attempt to show that gnostic "androgyny,"  far from being a ratification of Greco-Roman discourse (as has been sometimes suggested), is actually a subversion of this very discourse, constructed so as to reify the Gnostic disapproval of an important Greco-Roman cultural premise – that one which has been aptly defined by David Halperin as "the ancients' deeply felt and somewhat anxiously defended sense of congruence between a person's gender, sexual practices, and social identity."

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